Here are studies in unknown shapes. The first bloom? In service of spontaneity, a perpetual reorientation. How useful in a landscape of discontinuity. How lumpy this world feels. I can only build by stumbling, my clumsy hands fitting one incongruity into another, and these into the rising wind.
In the center of a city, one draws a garden, vast and wild with unnamed fruits, a forbidden abundance. Who does she think she is? Vines twining around her calves, half an open orb cupped in each hand, juice running between fingers, in rivulets down forearms, to her weeping elbows. She lowers her face into the flesh. It clings to her chin, and she dares to look back with a wild grin, breathing.
Notes while reading this interview with Tara Geer, discussing her current installation, Unstill World. I am grateful to find her work, which aims “to translate unknowing into the work and not just more and more kinds of knowing.”
An ongoing installation project.
There was no title for the New You, a liminal masterpiece of clay and accumulated objects. It morphed in size: now handheld, now too big to fit through a doorway. Scale is an attitude, you explained. You had a similar view of materials. Now you are an unassuming carboard box, full of surprises, now the breathtaking choreography of of bright colors on canvas. You repurposed materials from earlier works. One day, you surprised us with a large floor installation we had to rotate around to take in. This One is For You, you called it.
Given a long enough silence in a large enough group, someone will eventually ask the question. When someone did, wondering What’s it mean? you laughed, but gently. I don’t think about the meaning in my work, you said. I only find it in working.
Inspired by Ethan Greenbaum’s delightful interview with his wife, the artist Sun You, which I found this morning in BOMB magazine.
I am, in the end––and each beginning––no more or less than a hollow vessel strung with sympathetic strings. If awareness is a matter of tuning, subject to interference, all that happens is a matter of sound, sounding. Each new life, each cataclysm is what vibrates through a given string, to wind through the echoic box and out again. Now I am symphony, now grass, now a spool of thread; now current, now whale, now cresting foam over wave. No part may translate itself.
Withdrawing even from myself, I am none of these parts, but all of them, and the handler breathing somewhere in the rupture between what is and what appears. In this state like dormancy, pregnant with possibility, I have never been an adequate expression, beyond this whispered invocation into wind, water, and this lover’s touch––
––calling, sound me, that I may remember. Heal my unbelief.
Adapted from An Object-Oriented Defense of Poetry in which philosopher Timothy Morton expands upon Percy Bysshe Shelley’s idea that all humans are like aeolian harps.
To the one proclaiming, without irony, I want to listen, after so long in the role of violent storm, how does a hearer begin the act of translation?
With pronounced suspicion, scanning the horizon. Can a storm hear itself? Perhaps this offered ear is only the eye. The I, ever central, rider of the galloping present, trampling presence, only reminds the embryo at the center further into the liquid dark of the labyrinth with no thread. There is a life that never stops bursting into unheard shouts of life, into lives.
How is it that we move from first love to loss so completely, and what makes the new state as real as the first? The world has a way of calling out the will to speak, to wrap some form around the formless, to create horizons at the edges of a given space, from which to trace the arrivals and departures of the sun. Or suns. I do not know which. The poem is passage, not discourse, the endurance as much as the cocoon.
Long studies in endurance make it possible to hold a placid gaze, to make these eyes a mirror, returning only light. Vanity is so often the lead horse, its reliable prance quick to assert the next happy ending: Victory, victory! I watch the riders pass, their contented flag billowing bright.
Behind these mirrored shields, the smoke of a homeland rises over blackened hills, the devastation nearly total. Except for this singing silence, the trace of oiled fingers around the surviving glass bowl. How did they miss this? Protect it. The mirrors are here so that the pillagers may not see what is left for the taking, highlighted against the scorched earth. Hold and wait until they are out of sight.
Pardon this extravagant request, but a listener grows tired of hearing only what makes noise. I want now to hear what moves constantly unheard. Also, I am tired of speaking in the usual way. I want a word to shatter language, that I may hold the taste of its center against my eardrum.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet each knew: to float on a raft made of words chosen out of desire, it was necessary to decreate the old world first. The flood repeats itself, and the dove.
So, the weaving and unweaving of the shroud by Penelope’s hand. She is buying time for the impossible return of an impossible life, long lost at sea.
Longing and despair are long partners, dancing together. Only the living are so bound.
Adapted from Helen Vendler’s essay on Wallace Stevens, which borrows a phrase of Stevens’ for its title, “Words Chosen Out of Desire.”
The feathered chest-dweller
coughs. We cannot hear
her song. We gather
at the ribbed rafters,
a motley congregation
of morose faces, to wait,
sensing her watch.
Perhaps she wants
but there isn’t a crumb
Then comes a low hum,
spreading through the nave
of our assembly until
our mouths drop the lines
that seal them.
Opened, we pour out
syllables of grief
too sharp to speak,
that she may absorb
enough to form
Responding to Dickinson.
Tornado. The word strikes fear in most people, but when you live in a region that sees a lot of them, you learn. Outsiders already thought us ignorant for staying, so we didn’t have anything to lose by giving ours a nickname. “Our T,” we called him.
You learn to adapt. Go underground, wait. Come up when it’s over. Survey the damage. Rebuild. Expect the pattern to repeat. Mama said you can’t expect a creature to be anything other than what it is. “Our T’s just wind,” she said, “can’t help himself.”
He had only touched down three times while we lived there. Mama remembered a few more. “Where is he now?” we would ask, under the open sky of the former living room.
“Beats me,” she said. “Greener pastures, maybe. Stratosphere.” We rebuilt the roof, went back to our lives, most of which involved restoring or maintaining a semblance of order until the next strike.
Our T. had a sense of humor, though. In between visits, he’d drop these notes in our mailbox: That was fun, wasn’t it? And how is everyone? Peaceful, I hope! We’d roll our eyes at the old one-liners, but we had to laugh.
“Atmospheric systems don’t have a word for aftermath,” Mama would remind us. That was something only the grounded knew, especially those of us in the habit of staying. “Now bring me that hammer,” she would add, pointing with her chin to a corner, “and that box of nails.”